INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACTS, 1946 TO 1990
SECTION 26(1), INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS ACT, 1990
SOUTHERN HEALTH BOARD
- AND -
PSYCHIATRIC NURSES ASSOCIATION
SERVICES INDUSTRIAL PROFESSIONAL TECHNICAL UNION
Chairman: Ms Owens
Employer Member: Mr Keogh
Worker Member: Ms Ni Mhurchu
1. Dispute concerning staffing levels.
2. In recent years the psychiatric services in Cork were reorganised into two divisions known as North Lee and South Lee. The Staff complement for the South Lee catchment area is 92.67 posts. The dispute concerns staffing levels in the Acute Unit which is located in Our Lady's Hospital. The Chief Nursing Officer for psychiatric services in South Lee does not automatically replace staff when they are absent on sick leave or when they are engaged in special 'one to one' nursing. The Unions claim that all absences should be covered. Management maintains that staffing levels are adequate. The dispute was referred to the Labour Relations Commission and a conciliation conference was held on the 23rd April, 1997. Agreement was not possible and the dispute was referred to the Labour Court by the Labour Relations Commission on the 13th May, 1997. A Court hearing was held in Cork on the 11th June, 1997.
3. 1. The Board's staffing level is not sufficient to cover requirements such as sick leave and special 'one to one' nursing. The proposal staffing level contravenes safe standards and practice. In recent times three nurses have had their careers prematurely terminated as a consequence of incidents in this unit.
2. Staff levels which were in operating prior to 5th November, 1996 (i.e. 98 posts) must be maintained.
3. 1. The agreed staffing levels for all ward/units are minimal. Management insisted that 3 male nurses be rostered to the Acute Unit day and night with 1 male nurse in the other units at night. This was the minimum level to ensure patient/staff safety and provide proper care.
2. On numerous occasions male staff have been withdrawn from other units to replace absentees or provide 'specials'. They are replaced by female staff thereby reducing safety levels for patients/staff.
3. Prior to the division North and South Lee operated a relief duty staff list. North Lee continues to do so. Staff are willing to do relief night duty therefore cover could be provided. As staff would receive time off in lieu there is no extra cost to the Board. Management in South Lee has repeatedly refused to operate a relief list, thereby causing increasing staff shortages.
4. The number of serious incidents in the Acute Unit are of a higher ratio than other units in the S.H.B. and other regions. The Board's proposals to reduce staff levels are irresponsible and at variance with the Health and Safety legislation.
4. 1. The nursing complement for the South Lee Catchment area was increased from 79 to 92.67 posts from November, 1996. This was to cover all eventualities in relation to Annual Leave, Sick Leave, Maternity Leave and the provision of Special Nurses.
2. In the event of 'one to one' nursing being required Management will assess the situation and discuss options with the Nurse in charge of the Unit. Patient/staff safety and the overall needs of the unit will be considered, the availability of a temporary nurse will also be addressed.
3. Management accepts that difficulties in interpretation and procedure can arise for nursing staff when medical staff request special nursing. Consequently the Board is actively involved through direct contract with Clerical Directors and through the nursing policy/procedures committee to agree a policy on this issue.
4. While, pending the outcome of the Labour Court hearing, the Board will endeavour to replace staff on sick leave and provide additional staff for 'specials' as they arise, it may not be as flexible in relation to the number of staff on annual leave at any one time if the status quo is to be maintained. Management would have to ensure that sufficient temporary nurses are available to cover sick leave and 'specials' as opposed to covering staff for annual leave.
The Court, having considered the written submissions and oral evidence at the hearing finds as follows:-
1. The present bed to nurses ratio be maintained.
2. The situation for 'specialing' as proposed by Management be continued pro tem and that the policy for the future continue to be addressed by the Special Committee. In this regard the Court recommends that both Unions be given adequate opportunity to make an input and to consider any final decision prior to implementation.
3. Appreciating the pressures which fall on nursing staff during sick absences, the Court recommends that the Nursing Management be sensitive to the staff concerns as to working short of full complement.
Signed on behalf of the Labour Court
23rd June, 1997______________________
Enquiries concerning this Recommendation should be addressed to Tom O'Dea, Court Secretary.